Council members want to fund bonuses but mayor says money isn’t there

Published 8:59 pm Monday, December 4, 2017

Selma Mayor Darrio Melton said the city doesn’t have enough money to pay city employees one-time raises this year.

The raises — bonuses in everything but name — have been given to city employees the past four years.

The amount ranges from $1,600 for full-time employees with more than three years of experience to $200 for new employees.

In past years, the raises have cost approximately $400,000 and have been paid from a half-cent sales tax approved in 2013.

Melton said the city is having a hard enough time making just regular payroll and there would be no way the city could pay the one-time raises without new revenue.

“We have more bills coming in than we do money coming in,” Melton said. “For the council to continue to give this false hope to city employees — that’s just disingenuous. They know the money is not there.”

The mayor said the city has been bringing in about $800,000 a month in sales tax.

“Well, payroll alone is $800,000 a month. That’s not even including bills,” Melton said. “We are having to play catchup on bills.”

Melton said paying the raises could result in staff cuts shortly.

“If that would happen, we would have to cut even deeper,” Melton said. “Those getting one-time raises may not be here at the beginning of the year.”

The Selma City Council has voted to fund the raises.

The first vote in late October was to pay the raises if funding was available. A second vote last week to pay the one-time raises with the caveat failed in a tied 4-4 vote.

Councilman Sam Randolph said a half-cent sales tax was approved in 2013 for the sole purpose of providing employees with raises.

The half-cent increase was expected to bring in $1.2 million annually, but collections have been slightly below that and have averaged about $95,000 the past four months.

“I haven’t seen anything from the city saying we are broke except for someone passing out a bogus paper saying we are short on money, blah, blah, blah. I want to see some bank statements, some bank deposits,” Randolph said. “We are doing our employees a disservice about not getting them that money.”

Randolph has said many employees make minimum wage or work part-time, and the bonus makes a difference in their lives.

“Do you know what $1,600 would do for them,” Randolph said. “That would help them with their bills, their Christmas gifts, whatever.”

The city’s first responders received a 10-percent raise last October, which was paid for by refinancing a bond last year. That amount — roughly $525,000 — remains unbudgeted for this year. Excluding first responders, the one-time raises would cost approximately $250,000.

The city of Selma also has a $660,000 bond payment due in January 2018.

“I don’t think we are in a fiscally responsible position to make that payment,” Councilwoman Miah Jackson said. “I know it’s a very hard decision to make, but it’s like a decision whether we are going to choose to buy toys or keep the lights on. At this point, we just don’t have it.”

The council has discussed giving retirees a bonus too, which would add another $100,000. Due to how retirees are paid, there is no way they could receive the bonus by Christmas.

Councilwoman Angela Benjamin agreed with Randolph that the half-cent sales tax was created for raises and not other needs.

“When this was sold. It was sold on one-time raises. It wasn’t sold on paying bonds. It wasn’t sold on paying on anything else,” Benjamin said.

The city has been working with Auburn University on job descriptions and step pay raises for every job in the city. That report is due back this month.